Churches Dying Well

Thursday Re-mix:

There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. Deuteronomy 32:50

“None of us are getting out of here alive.”  Jim Morrison, Valerie Harper, Evel Kneivel, Colin Murphy, Hilary Swank, Jill Shalvis, Elbert Hubbard (and these are just from the first couple of pages of results on Google)

Life is terminal.  We all get that.  Dying is just a part of living, and that is an eternal truth.  We may not like it, we may not be ready to fully embrace it, but it is truth.  And eventually, it is a truth with which we simply must deal.

abandoned churchBut have you ever thought about it as it relates to churches (i.e., to local bodies of believers)?  Have you stopped to realize that there is not a single “local church” which has been around from the very beginning?  All those “churches” mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3? Gone.  Even the good ones.  And the church you serve right now will die one day as well.  It is the natural order of things.

Churches are, metaphorically speaking, living organisms.  They breathe, they multiply, they regenerate, they get sick, and eventually, they die.  They exhibit all the same signs of life (and of death) as any other living organism.  My perception of “church” changed pretty significantly once I began to consider the implications of this.

In the first place, churches need nourishment and exercise in order to be healthy.  The nourishment is the Word of God.  The exercise is the stretching and bending and reshaping that Word constantly calls us toward.  And it also is the challenges (even the persecution) which God permits us to experience.  Exercise only makes us stronger.

Second, this concept made me look at missions and church starts differently. Reproduction is just a natural function of churches.  Starting new churches is something every church should be a part of doing in one way or another.  It is the natural spread and propagation of the gospel…of making disciples.

But the most disturbing way churches are like living organism is that they die.  It is a part of the natural order of things for them to do so.  Neighborhoods change or go away altogether.  Ministry opportunities likewise shift underneath us.  Key leadership families leave or die off.  Congregations age.  Churches sometimes grow less and less relevant to the rapidly changing communities they serve.  Churches grow older and tired and unable to meet the vast needs around them.  Rather than growing and becoming more and more vibrant, they shrink and wither and find themselves having to make horrendous decisions about personnel and ministries alike.  The difficult truth is, there are churches all around us who, frankly, just need to be given permission to die, to shut their doors and fade away.  There is no shame in that…not after a church has long since fulfilled its purpose for being.

When a church recognizes these signs and decides to wind down, and leaves its resources (its buildings, its assets, maybe even a few of its people) to a new work…one more able and willing to meet the needs of the community it serves, one with youthful vitality and passionate people longing to love and to be loved…when a church is willing to face that music and give birth to something new, even in its death, then its legacy lives on even after it is gone.  That is what dying well looks like for a church.

Maybe you know a church which is just waiting for someone to love them enough to give them permission to enter into rest.  Maybe you’re in a church like that.  No shame in that.  Nothing to hide from.  Embrace death.  It is part of life.  Find a way to create a legacy.  Die well.

© Blake Coffee
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5 responses to “Churches Dying Well”

  1. phariseeinrecovery Avatar

    Sad but true. Some stats say there are 1000 new church plants a year and 4000 close every year. I am grateful to God that our church plant is now on its 10th year…all glory to God!

    1. That’s outstanding! I think it’s safe now to stop calling it a “plant”! You’ve got a full-fledged church now. 🙂 I’m rejoicing with you in what God has done there!

      1. phariseeinrecovery Avatar

        Thanks Blake for the wonderful blessing of your encouragement. God moved my wife and I along with one other brother to plant a church in our home town, all glory to God. We will complete 10 years next April 1st of 2015, April fools day of all days. Initially, we had the blessings and support of a sister church across the river in NYC and became self supporting or I should say God sustained in about six months. It helps that no one gets a salary, the money we collect goes to either rent or benevolence, leadership is all on a volunteer basis, tent makers, so to speak. We went in thinking we were going to teach our community and ended up learning the biggest most humbling lessons of our lives. Now we all listen out for God’s voice through the diverse voices of our church family. The only Super Star is Jesus Christ, God the Son who is working to teach us how to love as he has loved us.

  2. I was a member of a church that closed not long after I left. I remember feeling such a sense of sadness and failure. But stated this way is a breath of fresh air. This church sold/gifted its property to a fledgling congregation that is still alive and well in the neighborhood. God did not die with it. And it’s legacy lives on. Well stated.

    1. Thanks, Marla! Lots of metaphors and illustrations come to mind about things needing to die in order for new things to be born. Your testimony is encouraging!

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